Gun Talks Snag on Tricky Question: What counts as a boyfriend?

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WASHINGTON — Among the sticking points standing in the way of a final agreement on what could be the first major bipartisan gun safety legislation in decades is an age-old question: How do you define a boyfriend?

The question may seem frivolous, but for a small group of Republicans and Democrats pushing to translate a hard-won compromise on guns into legislation that could win 60 votes in the Senate, it is vital. And for millions of women who have been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner, it’s life threatening.

At issue is a provision of the proposed deal that would make it harder for domestic abusers to obtain firearms.

Current law prohibits people convicted of domestic violence or subject to a domestic violence restraining order from being able to buy a gun, but it only applies if they have been married or lived with each other. the victim, or had a child with her. Lawmakers have worked unsuccessfully for years to close what has become known as the “boyfriend loophole” by expanding the law to include other intimate partners. Taking such a step is considered one of the most popular and effective ways to reduce gun violence.

But first, lawmakers need to agree on what exactly makes someone an intimate partner. Is it one date or several? Could an ex-boyfriend count?

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat who led the talks, described it as “a complicated issue of state statutes and state pricing practices.”

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said the boyfriend issue was surprisingly complex.

“The surface explanation seems to be quite simple, but I know that in trying to reduce it to a legislative text, I think it has become a little more uncomfortable,” said Mr Thune, who is not directly involved in the negotiations. .

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Lawmakers are racing to finalize the legislation and pass it before the Senate’s next July 4 recess, which would require at least 10 Republican senators to join Democrats in breaking a Republican filibuster.

Deal on new gun laws includes improved background checks of potential gun buyers under 21, which would allow law enforcement to review records for the first time mental and child health. It would provide federal money to states with so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed dangerous. The compromise is also expected to toughen laws to end gun trafficking and include funds to bolster mental health resources in communities and schools, as well as school safety.

The final haggling focused on the details of closing the boyfriend loophole, including the definition and whether those subject to the gun ban should be able to appeal. Negotiators also spent Thursday debating funding for the Red Flag Act and whether states without such laws can receive money.

The impasse over the boyfriend loophole has become so sticky that Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas and a crucial player in the talks, has said the proposal could be dropped from the package altogether.

“We’re not ready to release smoke so we don’t have a deal yet,” Mr Cornyn said, declaring “I’m not frustrated – I’m just done” as he left a private negotiation session that stretched into the afternoon of Thursday.

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Republicans want to limit the scope of the domestic violence provision, while Democrats want to write it broadly.

“There are a lot of people who have committed domestic violence who aren’t actually charged with domestic violence – they’re charged with common assault, but they definitely committed an act of domestic violence,” Murphy said, adding: “We’re at a pretty critical stage in the negotiation, and so I’m not going to share anything that compromises our ability to land this.

The inclusion of the boyfriend provision in the bipartisan framework, which was released on Sunday with the support of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, was one of the biggest surprises for officials from both parties, given attempts unsuccessful attempts to remedy this in the past. Earlier this year, lawmakers were forced to drop a similar provision from an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act – a landmark law intended to end domestic violence, harassment and assault. sexual – because Republicans opposed it.

“It’s the difference between doing what sounds good and saving lives,” Rep. Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, said of closing the boyfriend loophole. “We understand that we can’t get it all, but we have to do enough when we can see the research is there.”

This research, along with analysis from leading gun safety organizations, shows that millions of women have been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner. Between 1980 and 2008, more than two-thirds of people killed by a spouse or ex-spouse were shot. Several of the gunmen involved in mass shootings in recent years, including at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in 2016 and at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, had histories of domestic or family violence.

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As talks began on a compromise on gun safety legislation following the devastating mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, Texas, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, led the campaign to combat domestic violence as part, the aids involved with the said discussions.

But agreement on the details of the provision has proven elusive, even as key negotiators – Ms Sinema, Mr Cornyn, Mr Murphy and Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina – have repeatedly banded together in hope for a breakthrough that could allow votes on the legislation next week.

Other senators have raised questions about whether the provision should be retroactive, or whether a person prevented from purchasing a firearm under the measure, particularly because of a misdemeanor, should be given the opportunity to to appeal – and how long she has to wait before she can do so.

“A lot of our members, as you know, are always keen to make sure that strong due process is built into some of these provisions, and so I think that’s going to be really critical for that one,” Mr. Money.

The proposal under discussion, like many elements of the deal, is narrower than what Democrats have called for in the past, including in a bill introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. In a speech on the floor this week, Ms. Klobuchar indicated that she, like other Democrats, would support the legislation even if it falls short of her original plan and other gun safety proposals.

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